Will the Force Touch be strong with new smartphones?
By Keith Liu September 15, 2015
- Apple has introduced Force Touch for its new iPhones, but calls it 3D Touch
- But has it broken its own cardinal rule of making things simple?
ANALYSIS STAR Wars fans may recognise the reference in the headline, but this has nothing to do with the upcoming movie.
Instead, I’m taking a slightly harder look at Force Touch, a new feature that was announced for the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus last week during Apple Inc’s September product event.
Except that Apple called it 3D Touch when it demoed it on the new iPhone 6s.
That’s typical of Apple. The marketing geniuses in the company need to drum up something snazzy and consumer-friendly (see other examples like iSight camera, Facetime calling, Retina display), and they figured they had to differentiate it from Force Touch, which is already employed for MacBook trackpads.
So 3D Touch it is.
But to me, they’re pretty much the same thing. Both Force Touch and 3D Touch are Apple’s software implementations using pressure-sensitive touch sensors.
Today’s capacitive smartphone screens recognise taps, long presses, movement swipes, and multi-touch inputs, but pressure-sensitive touch is new.
Such technology is now available for the Apple Watch as well as Apple’s 2015 MacBooks when the company introduced Force Touch in the trackpad, allowing it to recognise a physical push from your finger and essentially creating virtual keys on a flat surface.
It’s like clicking a mouse key without the click, nor the key.
For those who have not had the privilege of owning an Apple Watch or using the new trackpad, what happens is this: Apply pressure on the screen or trackpad (Force click) and something magical happens. Apply even more pressure and something even more amazing happens.
Take, for example, file icons. Force-click on the icon (of say, a Word document), and you get to see a preview of the file’s content, before opening it. Apple calls it Peek (pic below).
Great – that really saves you the trouble or remembering the file name of the document, since you’re such a busy executive.
Frankly speaking, give me real mouse keys any time, as I prefer feeling that satisfying click under my index finger when I press something.
And thinking about it, I have been using something similar all this time, except it doesn’t involve any pushing. It’s called the right-click button. On an Android smartphone, it’s called a long-press.
But since iPhones already use the long-press to make the icons wobble so they can moved around, it needed something new to improve the archaic ways of how we deal with our devices.
Consider this then a new milestone in user interface history, like multi-touch, or pinch to zoom.
After all, there are easily more than a dozen things you can do with Force Touch and Apple has seen fit to bring many of these functions to the newest iPhone.
Examples include previewing emails, photos, a message or a web link, and when you press further, a new menu shows up to provide more actions. Apple has cleverly named this Pop (pic below).
Press hard on the message icon for instance, and a choice of sending a new message or your frequent contacts would ‘pop’ up. Just like a contextual menu.
Hang on a minute, it IS a contextual menu! But kudos to Apple for making it sound so fresh.
What’s interesting for me is that the designers in Cupertino have seemingly broken Apple’s own cardinal rule of making things simple.
You see, these contextual menus (which have been around for as long as I can remember) were never part of Apple’s plan under the late former CEO Steve Jobs, simply because they add complexity. They are less intuitive, which is why the Apple mouse never had a right-click button.
However, that has now changed with the Apple Watch and even the recent Apple Music software, which had users (including myself) complaining about how complex it had become to navigate an Apple product’s user interface.
In a statement, Ovum lead analyst for consumer technology Ronan De Renesse said, “The iPhone 6S matches the competition in terms of features and innovation but does not exceed it. The new 3D Touch user interface could make a difference but it will take time to catch on with consumer and developers.”
“This is an entirely new way to interact with devices that people are unfamiliar with,” he added.
This won’t include current iPhone users unless they upgrade to the new models, since it requires hardware support (an upgraded touchscreen) to make this wizardry happen.
Which means I’ll have to ditch my brand-new iPhone 6 then, to use this 3D touch feature. Thanks, Apple, you’ve just fragmented the iOS experience.
The good news for consumers is that Apple’s rivals in the Android camp are jumping on board the bandwagon and this may bring about new innovations for this type of user interaction.
During the IFA consumer technology show in Berlin earlier this month, Chinese telecoms giant Huawei also showed off its upcoming smartphone, the Huawei Mate S, featuring – you guessed it – pressure-sensitive touch technology that can recognise a tap, a swipe, or a push on the screen.
It can even differentiate your finger from your knuckle, which is pretty impressive.
In a tweet from Huawei (pic below), the company even showed the new smartphone screen’s ability to weigh a fruit. That certainly tips the scales for me in the innovation department. Or, maybe not.
The truth is, we’ll have to see (and feel) how a pressure-sensitive display can change things moving forward.
It may bring about truly unique ways of interacting with our smartphones, or it may just turn out to be a gimmicky dud that no one will use.
What’s certain is that over time, I’m sure I’ll get used to pretending that I’m clicking a mouse key when I’m actually pressing against a flat surface with more force, even though it feels awkward.
Or just like how I’m now used to tapping on a virtual keyboard on my smartphone, rather than hammering away on tiny but oh-so-tactile physical keypad on my old Nokia.
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